When Cale Genenbacher worked at Microsoft, he used to like to get away from his desk and walk the trails around the tech giant’s sprawling Redmond, Wash., campus to think about how he should tackle a problem. Those trails are part of the reason why Genenbacher is no longer a business excellence program manager at Microsoft.
Genenbacher said he was on a good team and he liked the people he worked with. He called tech “sexy” and “dynamic.”
“I got in there and it just wasn’t for me — I couldn’t sit at a desk,” Genenbacher said. “It just wasn’t fast paced enough for what I wanted to do. I realized walking the trails, ‘Man, this is great, the company is great, benefits are great. This is arguably an amazing company to work for. But what I enjoy most is being out on these trails and being outside.’ On those walks, thinking about Microsoft business problems, the idea crystalized in my head.”
That idea revolved around travel and places to stay with cool accommodations that also offered the best gear for adventure sports and a brought together a community of like-minded people.
And now Genenbacher, 30, is a co-founder of Loge Co. (pronounced Lodge), a hospitality startup that offers overnight motel and camping accommodations catering to surfers and other outdoor enthusiasts. A location opened in Westport, Wash., in May and another is coming to Snoqualmie Pass to attract skiers, climbers and mountain bikers.
Genenbacher grew up amidst the farmland of central Illinois. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served four years in the Army before getting an MBA from Vanderbilt University. Army buddies tipped him off to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
“When you’re in the Army there are bases all across the country, and most of them are in places you don’t want to be. That’s why the Army has land there,” Genenbacher said. “I had a number of really good friends who served at Joint Base Lewis McChord in the Rangers and they all just freaking loved it. And I came out to visit the Northwest and was just like, ‘God, I found home.’ I just love the outdoors up here. In Seattle, we’re so spoiled.”
So after his 15-month stint at Microsoft and with his idea for a hip motel and camp spot churning in his head, a mutal connection hooked Genenbacher up with Johannes Ariens, who was doing design-build and construction in the Seattle area. The current chair of the Surfrider Foundation in Seattle just happened to be chewing on a similar plan.
“I reached out and we talked and it was funny,” Genenbacher said. “We both pulled up our pitch decks and they were eerily similar. We both had one slide that had mapped out where our first 10 locations would be and both Johannes and I had seven of the 10, the exact same — which is nuts. So we started talking and it was kind of like founder dating for a while, figuring out if we liked each other, could we actually work together, values and stuff like that. Our thought process was so in line it was kind of crazy.”
The two closed on a run-down motel and RV park in Westport last November and launched a Kickstarter to gauge further interest a month later, raising just over $30,000. A seed round attracted another $210,000 from investors including Bryce Phillips, founder and CEO of evo; Ira Gerlich, partner at evolution Projects; Alan Tabor, founder of Mountain Hardware; and Dan Nordstrom, former CEO of Outdoor Research.
All of those folks are investing further in a $1.85M Series A funding round that will be used for Loge Co.’s continued growth and the company’s next planned location near the base of Summit Central at Snoqualmie Pass.
“What we’re trying to do at this point is have investors who can also serve as advisors and have experience in the outdoor industry,” Genenbacher said. “So, all those guys are kind of major players. So far we’re extremely lucky compared to most startups. We’ve been able to do what we’ve done with a small group of investors … and it frees us up from the constant fundraising that most startups find themselves in.”
Genenbacher said the property at Westport was “just north of condemned — it was pretty harsh” when he and Ariens, 32, went to work on it last spring, putting in 14-hour construction days. In no time they rehabbed the motel and RV park and camp spaces and soon opened a hostel and then a bar and cafe space. Live music on the weekends further fueled the attraction.
They signed a strategic partnership with evo, the Seattle-based retailer of outdoor equipment and apparel. They supplied new surfboards and wetsuits as rental equipment and provide financial and administrative assistance in exchange for an equity stake in Loge.
“Loge is the perfect partner for evo,” Phillips said. “We share core values, are both focused on building community, have a love for being outside, and want to have a positive impact.” He called Ariens and Genenbacher “rock solid individuals” who are inspired to make lives better.
The company also attracted 10 Barrel Brewing out of Bend., Ore., as a partner. The longtime sponsor of this weekend’s Clean Water Classic pro-am surf competition in Westport is what Genenbacher calls “basically the outdoor recreation beer.”
“They’re very much in line with what we wanted to do and so we approached them and they were just awesome; they were stoked to be closer to the coast and to have their brand somewhere where surfers are,” he said. “So we’ve been talking to them about doing stuff at future locations, which is really cool.”
Genenbacher is already living full time at Snoqualmie Pass now and Loge Co. will further introduce itself to that community this fall when they take over management of The Pass Life, a development featuring modern lofts at the foot of the Summit that Phillips founded.
The Loge at Snoqualmie Pass — or whatever it ends up being called — will be built from the ground up and should open next summer, with the aim of attracting mountain bikers and rock climbers, and then snow sports enthusiasts. And another location is close to becoming official — at “an extremely popular destination for people who like outdoor recreation in Washington,” Genenbacher said. Beyond that, growth will further target the Northwest outside of Washington state and then the entire Mountain West.
Despite only a short time in tech, it rubbed off on Genenbacher. He called it “cliché and overused” to say so, but he and Ariens went into the whole process with a lean startup methodology in which they were focused on making small adjustments and gauging feedback. And he’s quick to credit Seattle’s vibrant scene for offering those lessons.
“The thing that’s nice about tech, especially in Seattle, is you can almost bank on the assumption that every single person you talk to is extremely intelligent,” Genenbacher said. “And there’s definitely a lot of lessons to be learned from tech in terms of iteration and speed and not trying to go in and perfect things initially, and kind of A/B test.”
But now that he’s rooted in the world of hospitality and trying to grow a business — not to mention surfing and skiing when he wants — Genenbacher said that he doesn’t imagine looking back and longing for the tech career that he left behind.
“I still spend more time than I like in spreadsheets, but I don’t think I will miss it,” he said. “I like being outside. I like being in the mountains. I think we’re gonna stay focused on that.”